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Axum, also Aksum, is a city in northern Ethiopia, located at the base of the Adoua mountains. It was the center of the Axumite Kingdom, which emerged around the time of the birth of Jesus and declined in the 12th century due to the shift of the power center of the Ethiopian Empire further south.

The kingdom had its own written language called Ge'ez, and also developed its own style of architecture exemplified by such structures as the obelisk of Axum. The kingdom was at its height under king Ezana, baptized as Abriha, in the 300s AD (which was also when it officially embraced Christianity).

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum houses the Biblical Ark of the Covenant in which lies the Tablets of Law upon which the Ten Commandments are inscribed. This same church was the site Ethiopian emperors were crowned for centuries until the reign of Fasilidos , then again beginning with Yohannes IV until the end of the empire. Axum is considered to be the holiest city in Ethiopia and is an important destination of pilgrimages. Significant religious festivals are the T'imk'et Festival (known as the Epiphany in western Christianity) on 7th January and the Festival of Maryam Zion in late November.

Seventy-five percent of the people in the city are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. The remainder of the population is Sunni Muslim and P'ent'ay.


Axum and Islam

Although Axumite Muslims have attempted to build a mosque in this most holy of Ethiopian towns, Orthodox residents have replied that they must be allowed to build an Ethiopian Orthodox church in Mecca if the Muslims are to be allowed to build a mosque in Aksum.

The connection of Axum with Islam is very old. According to ibn Hisham, when Muhammad faced oppression from the Quraish clan, he sent a small group that included his daughter Ruqayya and her husband Uthman ibn Affan, whom Ashma ibn Abjar, the king of Axum, gave refuge to, and protection to, and refused the requests of the Quraish clan to send these refugees back to Arabia. These refugees did not return until the sixth year of the Hijra (628), and even then many remained in Ethiopia, eventually settling at Negash in eastern Tigray.

There are different traditions concerning the effect these early Muslims had on the ruler of Axum. The Muslim tradition is that the ruler of Axum was so impressed by these refugees that he became a secret convert. On the other hand, one Ethiopian tradition states that one of the Muslim refugees who lived in Ethiopia during this time converted to Orthodox Christianity, thus becoming the first known convert from Islam to Christianity. Worth mentioning is a second Ethiopian tradition, that on the death of Ashma ibn Abjar , Muhammed is reported to have prayed for the king's soul, and told his followers, "Leave the Ethiopians in peace as long as they do not take the offensive."

Sites of interest

There are numerous buildings and ruins of religious and historical interest in Axum, including:


  • Stuart Munro-Hay. Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. Edinburgh: University Press. 1991. ISBN 0748601066
  • Yuri M. Kobishchanov. Axum (Joseph W. Michels, editor; Lorraine T. Kapitanoff, translator). University Park, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 1979. ISBN 0271005319

External links

Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:11:19
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04